Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus tells us in Luke 14:26 to hate ourselves. This
is shocking! It seems the exactly wrong thing to say. So why does he say
it? No one else tells us this – except, perhaps, homicidal monsters
and sexual perverts. So why does Jesus tell us to hate ourselves? He’s
not a wicked person. He’s not a pervert. He’s the good shepherd,
after all (John 10:11). He’s the one on whom we depend for our safety
and salvation. So what’s up here? Is there any method in his madness?
Why does he tell us to hate ourselves? This instruction seems wild
beyond measure. Surely there seems to have been a mistake made
somewhere. But as Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) writes in his famous
book on the near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, entitled Fear
and Trembling (1843) (Kierkegaard’s
Luke 14:26 offers a remarkable teaching on the
absolute duty to God…. This is a hard saying. Who can bear to listen
to it [John 6:60]? This is the reason… that we seldom hear it. But
this silence is only an escape that is of no avail…. The context in
which these words appear…. indicate that the words are to be taken in
their full terror in order that each person may examine himself…
So it’s no surprise, then, that some say the word
μισεω, usually translated as hate, actually
means something else. It means something softer, like “give up,”
“love less” (TEV, 1976; CEV,
1995) or “let go” (Eugene Peterson, The
Message, 2002). But that word μισεω won’t
budge under these clever, definitional revisions.
Μισεω has been translated as hate for
generations, and hate it must remain. We cannot dodge so easily the
command to hate ourselves (see Gerhard O. Forde, “Fake Theology,” Dialog,
Fall 1983). So the word misogyny, for instance, or the hatred of women,
comes from μισεω, and rightly so – as does
misanthropy or the hatred of humanity. Hatred then – and no less
offensive a word – is the only correct translation of
μισεω – whether we like it or not.
Others try to head self-hatred off at the pass by saying it’s
not about hating ourselves.
No, they say, it’s rather about hating our
lives – which they think is less than ourselves. But when Luke
14:26 says we are to hate our lives it means ourselves. The two
expressions mean the same – so the distinction between self and life
is without any difference. This is because the word at stake here, ψυχην
or psyche, means our entire life or self (see Luke 6:9, 9:24, 12:23,
therefore leaves nothing out of ourselves that could be loved instead of
hated. For “from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no
soundness” in us (Isaiah 1:6). So “we are all utterly lost [and]
there is no good in us” [The
Book of Concord (1580) ed. T. Tappert (1959) pp. 309, 519]. What
must be hated, then, is our entire being – or at least that’s what
the word ψυχην
means in Luke 14:26.
these linguistic, Biblical facts don’t stop the critics. They’re
convinced – even against those facts – that self-love trumps
self-hatred in the Bible. They’re convinced that those who think Jesus
taught self-hatred are maliciously deluded. “Such attitudes are
dangerous distortions and destructive misinterpretations of scattered
Bible verses grossly misread by negative-thinking Bible readers who
project their own negative self-image onto the pages of Holy
Scripture.” So sin, rather than coming from self-love, actually
springs up from being a “non-self-loving” person. And salvation
isn’t aided and abetted by self-hatred, but rather comes only through
acquiring “a noble self-love” [Robert H. Schuller, Self-Esteem:
The New Reformation (1982) pp. 113, 128, 49].
In this critique, self-love and self-hate are switched around –
making self-love good and self-hate bad. In the last half of
Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly
by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; [and] the heavenly by
the love of God, even to the contempt of self.
This venerable teaching is now being brazenly assaulted with
impunity. For generations it guided the church in the way of salvation.
But now it’s thought to be passé, simply because it offends “the
dignity of the person” (R. Schuller, Self-Esteem,
And what’s more, Jesus tells you to love your neighbor “as
yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Now some think this rule implies that we
should love ourselves and only then love others. So this verse, they
say, trumps Luke 14:26. But as Luther points out, this cannot be so,
since nowhere in the Bible is there a command to love ourselves (LW
25:513). So what we have in the line ως
σεαυτον or “as yourself,” is
actually a call to love your neighbor instead
of yourself (LW
26:355-57). This line, then, isn’t about self-love at all.
when Jesus tells us to hate ourselves, this coheres with other Christian
teachings. So this isn’t an aberrant idea. In line with it we’re
told to “deny” ourselves (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).
We’re also told to “lose” our lives for Jesus’ sake (Matthew
10:39, 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24, 17:33). And we’re told to
“die” to ourselves (Romans 6:4; Galatians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 5:14).
All these verses go down the same road as self-hatred. Its meaning
therefore is to stand against ourselves – for we are our own worst
enemy (Luther’s Works 27:364, 42:48)! We don’t have our best interest
at heart. We shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly. So hating ourselves
means we don’t like our interests and instincts. It means we reject
our chosen values and ways. Self-hatred, then, is about saying “not as
I will,” but as God wills (Matthew 26:39). This is because we’re
terrible sinners (Luke 5:8; Mark 7:21-23; Jeremiah 17:9) – and,
indeed, in self-hatred there’s “nothing to hate but sin” (LW
14:162)! As such we must not be followed but opposed – for we are
grievous sinners. The Lutheran Confessions elongate this judgment saying
“man is… so miserably perverted, poisoned, and corrupted that by
disposition and nature he is thoroughly wicked… and hostile to God”
(BC, p. 524).
Self-hatred, then, is not about depression, despair, lethargy, or
pushing us to the brink of suicide. It’s rather about fighting against
ourselves so that we might serve God and care for our neighbors (Luke
10:27). Kierkegaard put it this way (KW
The single individual [is to fight] for himself with
himself within himself…. in the fight to free himself in equality
In this battle – which is “the good fight of faith” (1
Timothy 6:12) – we fight against our sinful self so we might live a
righteous life – that we might stand before God in equality, as a
sinner, with all the rest of humanity, pleading for mercy. So hating our
selves serves a good end. It’s not only about destruction. In it we
indeed break up the “fallow ground” or hardened crust of our lives,
but only so that new life may spring up (Jeremiah 4:3; Hosea 10:12).
This is an odd battle, no doubt. For in it we are both the pugilist and
the one fought against. So with ourselves, within ourselves, we fight
against ourselves, for ourselves – that we might be blessed. Strange
as this may seem, this struggle (Philippians 2:13; LW
35:377) is essential, for it puts us on the road to salvation.
So what seems only negative, is actually positive. Self-hatred
therefore works for our well-being and sounds an alarm against
perversions of itself
when the bustler wastes his time and powers in the
service of futile, inconsequential pursuits…. [and] when the
light-minded person throws himself almost like a nonentity into the
folly of the moment and makes nothing of it…. [and] when the depressed
person desires to be rid… of himself…. [and] when someone surrenders
to despair because the world or another person has faithlessly left him
betrayed…. [and] when someone self-tormentingly thinks to do God a
service by torturing himself (KW 16:23).
Self-hatred expects too much from us to be a party to any of
these distorted, mistaken ways (LW
31:160). For we stand against ourselves in self-hatred for only two
reasons:  so we can honor God and  so we can serve our neighbor as
we should (Matthew 22:36-40). Anything that holds us back from these two
pursuits isn’t part of self-hatred – regardless of what the critics
is self-hatred the only way to reach these goals? Surely there must be a
far less offensive way to go. Why does honoring God and helping our
neighbors require us to hate ourselves? Well, it’s only because we are
such terrible sinners – being sinful even “beyond measure” (Romans
7:13). If it were not for that, we wouldn’t have to hate ourselves. So
if we deny that, self-hatred no longer makes sense and can be willfully
disregarded. But as long as we belong to a crooked, perverse, adulterous
generation (Mark 8:38; Philippians 2:15), we’ll have to hate ourselves
if we are going to save ourselves “for eternal life” (John 12:25).
We’re going to have to earnestly “attack” the old Adam and Eve in
us (BC, p. 445). We’re going
to have to crush this huge and horrible monster of self-righteousness
with “the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of
divine wrath” (LW 26:310).
If we refuse to do that, we’re nothing but “damnable knaves” (LW
43:228, 18:98)! But how are we members of such a fallen humanity?
What’s the evidence for this? In the Bible there seems to be at least
four descending degrees of degradation that testify to our wretched,
sinful, disgusting state, which justifies our hatred of ourselves.
First, we suffer from dullness – we’re asleep to our predicament.
Like the people of
was your word, Jesus?
your words were
word: Wakeup [Velad].
2. Laziness. And
secondly, when we do awake, we become defensive, working to shield
ourselves from unpleasantness – thereby showing our devilish
“dragon’s tail” (LW 22:397). And so we work hard to amass wealth – for ourselves
– to help ourselves idolatrously feel “secure, happy, fearless, as
if [we] were sitting in the midst of paradise” (BC,
p. 365) – in clear defiance of the “flaming sword” posted to keep
us from re-entering paradise (Genesis 3:24). This pursuit of ease and
tranquility is foolishness, says Luke 12:16-21, for the way to life is
the hard, narrow way which few favor (Luke 13:23-24; Matthew 7:13).
3. Recklessness. But we
also defend ourselves by redefining goodness. We say evil is good and
good is evil (Isaiah 5:20). This enables us to love darkness rather than
the light (John 3:19). And so quite gleefully, we’re “hell bent for
leather.” We throw all caution to the wind and pursue our basest
desires. And we love sinning (LW 22:390). For deeply rooted in our sinful hearts we have the
“desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from
death where one has the sure source of life” (LW
43:183)! So indeed we’re like the prodigal son, wallowing in “loose
living” (Luke 15:13). And none of this bothers us because we have
redefined goodness so it can be included in our perverted morality. But
this too is condemned when Jesus says he has come to poke out the eyes
of those who see life in this distorted way (John 9:39).
4. Disability. Finally,
we’re further mired in sinful filthiness by being unable to do the
good we should do, and helplessly dragged into doing the evil that
disgusts us (Romans 7:18-24). This captivity makes us wretched and
pitiful. And it is unavoidable, since every one who sins is a “slave
to sin” (John 8:34). So if we try to improve, our efforts will fall
under their own weight. Any self-confidence, then, runs aground (LW
3:4; 26:171; 31:371).
should then follow Proverbs 9:8 and love the one who rebukes us. We
shouldn’t resists the call to hate ourselves. We should instead say:
“Thank you Lord! I needed that hit up the side of the head. It hurt
alright, but nothing else could help and only you loved me enough to
tell me this saving, offensive truth!” These should be our words
because as Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goeth before a fall.” So no
wonder “the Lord of hosts… is against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up and high” (Isaiah 2:12). For it’s
precisely this pride that tries to keep us from the cleansing abrasives
in self-hatred. And pride strikes us all. For each of us has a
“philosopher in us” [Anthony Kenny, The
Legacy of Wittgenstein (1984) p. 48]. And “philosophy and ego are
never very far apart.” In fact, “philosophical discussion can be a
kind of intellectual blood sport, in which egos get bruised and buckled,
even impaled…. Plain showing off” is also a part of it [Colin McGinn,
The Making of a Philosopher
(2002) p. 63]. So because of our supposed superiority, we think we’re
better than others, believing we’re more talented, harder working and
better educated than most [LW
18:263; Robert Taylor, Restoring
Pride (1996) p. 31; contra
Philippians 2:3]. But this isn’t the Biblical way. Even so, we still
hold back and resist the self-hatred in Luke 14:26.
Therefore God sends a Savior for us, Christ Jesus, who suffers
the same humiliating humility that is required of us in hating
ourselves. In this way he shows us that he doesn’t ask of us anything
he’ll not himself do first. So Jesus leaves his heavenly abode, filled
with all the glory, honor and respect of the angelic hosts, and takes on
“sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). And this descent is no cake walk, even
for the only Son of God (Luke 22:44). For he comes to be “obedient
unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). And in the
process he is mocked, bound, spit upon, slapped, kicked, stripped,
whipped and forsaken (Matthew 26:67, 27:2, 28-31, 39-44, 46). And he
endures all of this voluntarily – as he did the washing of the foul
feet of his faithless disciples (John 13:12-17; Matthew 26:31, 56). In
this display you have “an example, that you should follow in his
steps” (1 Peter 2:21) – even with the humiliation included (contra
Robert H. Schuller, Self-Esteem,
p. 84)! So Jesus, though he didn’t need to hate himself because he was
sinlessness (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19), did so anyway. He denied
himself and gave up his life in the most degrading, painful way on the
cross – becoming even “a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). And in
this he “was self-denial” himself (KW
But even this powerful example will not suffice. In addition we
need redemption and forgiveness. This is because, try though we may to
hate ourselves, we will fall back again and again into being “lovers
of self, lovers of money,… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of
God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4; LW 29:119). For we continue to have a “mad passion for [our] own
glory” (LW 33:226). So we
need deliverance from ourselves, from beyond ourselves (Romans 7:24).
And this we have in Christ Jesus. For the one who gave us this model of
humiliation, also frees us from our sin through his very humiliation.
This he does by taking our sins upon himself, suffering the punishment
for them, and then sharing his victory with us, though we didn’t
deserve it (Romans 5:8). By his wounds indeed we have been saved (1
Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 8:9).
it isn’t enough to talk about and even affirm self-hatred as we have
done today. We must also implement it and develop it in our daily lives
– “walking by” it, if you will (Galatians 5:25). Now the key to
this is Christian actions – like those two dozen listed in Romans
12:9-21. This is what self-hatred does to us – it puts work and action
in the place of feelings and sentiment. Self-hatred displaces those
hurt, offended, complaining, exhausted and bruised feelings. Now we no
longer dwell in them, but put our head down and plow straight ahead
(Luke 9:62; LW 15:113; 44:77).
This gives us new power. For serving God and neighbor usurps our
feelings – whether disrespected or honored, sullen or thrilling.
But we can’t do any of this on our own. Only God can fill us
with the competence and confidence we will need to quit living for
ourselves (2 Corinthians 3:6; 5:15). Only then can we do all things
through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Only then can we
hate ourselves while never hating others (1 John 2:9-11). And this we
do, giving all the glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). For this
righteousness of ours doesn’t belong to us, because of our sin, so it
remains alien to us, extra nos
– on loan from God (LW
12:367; 24:347; 25:137, 415; 26:170, 387; 27:21; 51:28). Amen.
as preached but with a few changes)